The international climate summits have produced remarkably slow progress over the years and this year’s edition, COP25 in Chile, is expected to deliver little different. It may be the perfect opportunity though for Latin American businesses to launch sustainable business transformations. 

Chile is the destination for this year’s international climate change summit in December, also known as the COP25. Heads of state will meet in the country’s capital Santiago to try and advance action on climate change, although many suspect messers Trump and Bolsonaro will be amongst those dragging their feet. Political will for climate change action has become clear: much too little, and much too late, leaving a whole set of global risks. Businesses, however, have the chance to turn this risk to opportunity and fill the gap left by governmental inaction. This is a unique opportunity for South American, and especially Chilean businesses, to set the course and announce the start of sustainable transformations.

The Conference of Parties (COPs) hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has understandably been several acronyms too many to make many headlines in the mainstream media. The average knowledge of these absolutely pivotal global governance discussions may have, somewhat, unfortunately, boiled down to a few headline-grabbing events. Failed talks in Copenhagen in 2009 (COP15), a successfully negotiated agreement in Paris, 2015 (COP21), and Donald Trump pulling out of said agreement, have been the most memorable events from 25 years of talking. The rest, probably, has barely registered with normal people.

This year was supposed to be special though.

A twenty-fifth anniversary is always supposed to be celebrated, even if those 25 years have spectacularly failed to create change at the speed and on the scale needed. The world’s heads of state were expected to return to Brazil, where it all began in Rio, where the Earth Summit occurred and there was the first commitment to do something about climate change*. That was until one month after Jair Bolsonaro was voted into power in Brazil, who then reneged on their offer to host the conference. Governments around the world have continued to disappoint those looking for leadership, for one reason or another.

But perhaps the COPs are becoming something different, providing a different use to what was initially imagined. Can businesses fill the gap left by politicians fuelled by short-sighted electoral cycles? Perhaps boards interested in protecting their profits in the next century will be the ones to recognise that ‘business-as-usual’ means no business at all. More and more literature is emerging to suggest that if businesses do not transition to sustainable models then their lifetime is limited and that there is plenty of value-add to be had in sustainability, whether that is attracting the best value-driven millennial talent, or boosting your brand for cleaner consumers.

COP has become somewhat of a circus, but it does offer a platform for business. At last year’s COP in Poland, a number of businesses took the chance to announce their sustainability strategies and goals. Maersk pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050, Volkswagen announced the end is in sight for their internal combustion engines, and Shell announced to cut its carbon footprint in half by 2050 (the credibility of this one is definitely up for debate though). Businesses have the power to do what governments seem to be failing to do: take action. And they are using the COPs as a valuable amplification device.  

This year the conditions are just right for businesses to step up and announce action following on from what can only be described as the Annus Horribilis last year. The UN is using their annual General Assembly in September to host a Climate Action Summit, where Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is demanding plans, not speeches, from business. Some companies are leading the way, but many are lagging behind.

This is a unique opportunity for Chilean business to step up and take a lead. When eventually the 4,000 people gather in Chile to talk climate, the focus will inevitably turn to Chile’s public and private commitments. How will the mining sector, one of Chile’s largest economic drivers, fare in the eyes of the climate media? The spotlight will be on Chile for a limited amount of time, and is the perfect opportunity for businesses to begin or accelerate their sustainability journey, preferably in combination with strong public partnerships.

What can your business do? Where should you start? Clearly, it depends on the nature of your organisation, but assessing where you’re at and making a plan is a good start. Thinking about where you can make the biggest impact, and where you are most likely to be impacted is the next step (the SDGs are pretty useful for this). Then you can start thinking about what you can do in the next 5, 10, and 20 years to get there. Transparent reporting is key and especially making non-financial disclosures. If you’re in need of inspiration you need look no further than Ørsted, one of the leading renewable energy producers, formerly dirty Dong, the Danish coal burners. Their transformation has and continues to be, remarkable. And if they can do it, anyone can.

We at Sustainia are determined to help companies on their journey and move from inspiration to action. So the question stands, where will you be in December? And what do you need to do now to be prepared?

*The Earth Summit was technically 27 years ago but it set in motion the creation of the UNFCCC and the COP process, which began in Germany two years later.

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Sustainia is a global sustainability advisory firm that specialises in ESG & impact technology. Headquartered in Copenhagen, with a global reach, we research and develop new insights and market opportunities. Sustainia is a co-founder of the Global Opportunity Explorer, the world’s largest platform for vetted and verified sustainable solutions, and serves as a matchmaker between business solutions and global challenges.

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